The Ultimate Safari

by Nadine Gordimer

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Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618

Because it was released shortly before Gordimer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Jump and Other Stories, the collection in which ‘‘The Ultimate Safari’’ was published, is not considered to be one of Gordimer’s major works. Nonetheless, the book received widespread reviews in the major media of the day, and several reviewers remarked specifically on the story itself.

John Banville, writing in the New York Review of Books, wrote that the story, one of the ‘‘three fine stories’’ in the collection, ‘‘fairly quivers with angry polemic, yet achieves an almost biblical force through the simplicity and specificity of the narrative voice.’’

Writing in America, Jerome Donnelly writes that the collection as a whole achieves a ‘‘unity’’ that is ‘‘remarkable’’ considering the multiplicity of voices Gordimer uses, and the ‘‘simple, controlled narrative of wonderment filtered through a mind too unknowing to be terrified generates powerful understatement,’’ and that the story moves on ‘‘without indulging the temptation to sentimentalize the moment.’’

The Spectator critic Hilary Mantel described Gordimer’s new stories as having ‘‘complexity and resonance, sometimes grandeur,’’ and that they are all ‘‘worth reading and re-reading.’’ She describes the new work ‘‘as trenchant and committed as her novels,’’ and the sentences of ‘‘The Ultimate Safari’’ as ‘‘stripped down, simplified. . . . ’’

Dan Cryer, on the other hand, in a review for Newsday, suggested that while much of Gordimer’s work had made her ‘‘Nobel Prize–worthy,’’ it was important to separate Gordimer’s ‘‘superb novels’’ such as A Sport of Nature and The Conservationist from works such as Jump and Other Stories. ‘‘The majority of these stories,’’ Cryer writes in reference to several of the collections stories, including ‘‘The Ultimate Safari,’’ ‘‘achieve the limited objective of bringing the headlines to vivid life.’’

Critic Jeanne Colleran, in an essay included in the collection The Later Fiction of Nadine Gordimer, discusses Gordimer’s views that a short story collection, in many ways, is more able to convey the multiple truths of South Africa than a novel due to its ability to represent ‘‘the even greater multiplicity of voices, attitudes, and constituencies that comprise South African society. . . .’’ While much of the collection, with the ‘‘obsessive image of recent South African history, the dead . . . children [that] haunt the collection,’’ portrays the dire legacy of apartheid, ‘‘The Ultimate Safari,’’ written through the eyes of a young black southern African girl, offers some hope for the future. The girl, despite her refugee status, fully plans to return home where she believes her missing mother and grandfather are waiting.

In a major critical review in the Journal of Southern African Studies titled ‘‘Jump and Other Stories: Gordimer’s Leap into the 1990s: Gender and Politics in Her Latest Short Fiction,’’ University of the Witwatersrand professor Karen Lazar contextualizes the collection with respect to South Africa’s political climate at the time, as well as Gordimer’s previous work. In particular, Lazar is interested in exploring the trajectory of Gordimer’s political thought, particularly the evolution of her views of women.

While Lazar believes that the collection shows that Gordimer’s political thinking has continued to evolve, Lazar finds her continued representation of women as tending more to the ‘‘uni-dimensional’’ relative to her treatment of men, and that ‘‘various aspects of South African womanhood [in Jump and Other Stories] are split off, dichotomised and assigned to individual figures, such that the representations of women tend to be truncated, reduced and static, giving women a marginal and decentered status relative to the more lively and layered status of men.’’ While in many respects Gordimer ‘‘jumps’’ into the 1990s with this collection, according to Lazar, Gordimer’s sometimes ‘‘static’’ and ‘‘truncated’’ representations of women continue to be a concern.

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Essays and Criticism